People contructing in collaboration illustration by Yuri Kumada

How to build a digital strategy: expect the unexpected

November 2018

When one of the biggest winemakers in Europe approached us to redefine their global brand digital strategy, we were pretty excited. But once we’d calmed down and absorbed the magnitude of the task, we knew that it wouldn’t necessarily be easy.

A project of this scale, coupled with the size, complexity and global spread of the client, is going to be anything but straightforward. And by its very nature an exercise in brand discovery means you never quite know what you will find.

It took a good couple of months of stakeholder interviews and presentations, lots of desk research, a workshop and a couple of reschedules and changes of plan. But the end result was a new, comprehensive digital strategy, clearly set out so that everyone could understand and implement it.

We certainly learned a lot along the way. Here are a few take-aways from the experience.

Assemble the troops

Inevitably you’ll sometimes feel overwhelmed while tackling projects of this scale. You’ll almost certainly come across unexpected issues – and insights – that will be outside your expertise. Accept that this will happen, and be ready for it.

Our dream team included content specialists, UX designers, creatives, strategists and producers. There was someone on the team who could deal with every aspect of the project, who could recognise an insight when they saw it, and could step in with the support whenever we hit a roadblock.

We found that having a heterogeneous mix of people in the team, each one with a different skill set, is a godsend when dealing with the unexpected. And right from the start, fostering a spirit of collaboration is key, so try not to work in silos.

Don’t flunk the homework

The first step is to do the research – and to do it properly. For us this meant researching every trace of the brand’s presence in the digital space for different markets and their activities during the past years, combing through their websites, digital activations, campaigns and social media.

We then created a map to visualise the relationship between touch points and to really understand the customer’s journey in both global and local markets.

You only have to ask

The deeper we plunged into the brand’s presence online, the more curious we became. What intrigued us was how the different teams worked together and how fluid their relationship was with the global team.

Early in the process we decided to conduct phone interviews with key stakeholders from each of the markets and with their global team. This way we could find out how they worked together, what the team structure was, and what was great and what wasn’t so great within their workflows.

There is no better way to find out your client’s pain-points than by asking the people who are experiencing them, day in day out.

Get the numbers right

It’s tempting to just ask the opinions of your client’s decision makers, add your own assumptions and ideas, and waltz off into the sunset with a shiny new strategy. That, after all, is the fast route to delivery.

But do that and you increase your chances of getting it wrong. If you want real insight and a strategy that works, you have to speak to the right number of people. We found that the best insights come from shared knowledge and opinions, even when they are contradictory.

That doesn’t mean you have to go crazy with the numbers. Just make sure you get a diverse sample of opinions from different team roles, market cultures and external collaborators.

Make a great plan

A workshop seemed like a good idea for this project. We’d get representatives from every market in the same room and, after some exercises and brainstorming sessions, we’d all come out with a new brand personality, tone of voice and brand positioning, and ultimately find a common ground.

That was the plan. But we soon learned that even the best plans in the world can go a little ‘off-road’.   

And be prepared to change it

We soon discovered that scheduling workshops with teams from international markets is easier said than done. We had to reschedule more than once. This impacted our workflow and forced us to re-think our approach and adapt some of the exercises we’d planned.

The key? Be flexible in both your planning and your approach. Try not fall in love with your workshop structure because if you do, it can all end in tears. Always be willing to learn, to adapt and improvise.

In a nutshell

— Assemble a diverse team with different skill sets

— Figure out the brand’s touch points and create a visual map

— Ask plenty of questions – and ask them sooner rather than later

— Talk to the right number of people if you want the best insights

— Identify the main issue and how it could impact the project as soon as possible

— Have a plan, but be open and ready to re-plan with short notice

Tools we used

— Workshop preparation: Gamestorming : A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers and Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days

— Project management: Basecamp

— Documentation and presentations: Readymag